Law & Order

OSHA Clarifies Rule on Exposure to Beryllium

By SEMA Washington, D.C., Staff

In 2017, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) lowered the exposure limits for beryllium and related compounds to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter—just one-tenth the previous level. OSHA has now clarified certain provisions within the rule in order to potentially simplify compliance requirements.

Beryllium is a naturally occurring element that has many beneficial attributes and widespread applications. It is one-third lighter than aluminum, yet stiffer than steel, resistant to fatigue and corrosion, and recyclable. In the auto industry, beryllium is frequently used to produce airbags and components for power-steering, anti-lock braking and fuel-injection systems.

OSHA believes a small percentage of workers exposed to the chemical may develop chronic beryllium lung disease. Most worker exposure is associated with foundry and smelting operations, machining, beryllium-oxide ceramics and composite manufacturing. OSHA estimates that the beryllium standard applies to about 62,000 workers and may prevent nearly 100 deaths and 50 serious illnesses each year.

The new rule took effect in 2018 and industry had one year to implement any necessary changes, such as creating restricted beryllium work areas and using respirators and protective clothing sufficient to meet the new limits.

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